NFL

NFL AM: Sunday Surprises

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Ravens Move To 3-0

[JACKSONVILLE] It was certainly no surprise when the Baltimore Ravens beat the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday afternoon.  In fact, it’s only a surprise when the Jaguars win, as head coach Gus Bradley is now 12-39 as the team’s head coach.

“As the head coach, I’m the problem-solver,” Bradley said.  “We’ve got to solve these problems and quickly, and that’s exactly what I told the team.  We’ve got to look to extract more from our players, from our coaches, from everybody involved with this, asking them to give more.”

What is surprising is that the Ravens, who were 5-11 last season are now 3-0.

“All I can say is, that’s amazing,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s awesome. It’s incredible. For us, it’s a fabulous victory. I am very excited we won the football game. I feel like it was the hand of God, that’s how I feel. I’m proud of our guys for their fight.”

Why are the Ravens so good this year as compared to last year?

“The only difference is that we’re winning the close games now and we weren’t last year,” wide receiver Kamar Aiken told Football Insiders.

Veteran receiver Steve Smith spoke about the importance of the win.

“I think we understand what was at stake and this was an important game.  A game like this we lost last year,” Smith said.

Smith missed nine games last season with a ruptured Achilles.  Joe Flacco went down with a torn ACL and missed six games.  Terrell Suggs, the team’s emotional leader missed the entire 2015 campaign.  All are now healthy and making an impact.

“One of the biggest differences is that we’re healthy right now,” Suggs said.  “As soon as we get 58 (Elvis Dumervil) back we’ll really be at full strength and we weren’t last year.”

Smith, Flacco and Suggs were all key factors in Sunday’s road win in the extreme heat of Jacksonville.  Smith caught eight passes for 87 yards; At one point Flacco completed 21 straight throws and Suggs had two sacks and nearly came up with a diving interception.

How good are the Ravens actually?

Sure, they’re 3-0, but their wins have come against 1-2 Buffalo, 0-3 Cleveland and 0-3 Jacksonville.  There’s no selection committee in the NFL and you get no points deducted for “scheduling soft.”  Their wins haven’t been overly convincing, as they’ve won by six, five and two points respectively.

“While we would like to blow everybody out, we know realistically we’re the Baltimore Ravens and play AFC North black and blue division football.  We just have to be ready to end the close games and put the dagger in them,” Ravens kicker Justin Tucker said after he booted the game-winning 53-yard field goal.

A win is a win, right?

“If we get to the postseason, it means you’re a good team and you know how to win football games,” Ravens sometimes elite quarterback Joe Flacco said.  “Having said that, we have to play a little bit cleaner.  And, on offense, we have to find ways to get more points.  We played a solid three quarters of football but we’re not scoring.  I think we’re a team that’s kind of growing as we’re moving along here.  But we want to get into the end zone more.  That’s what’s going to put us over the top.”

The team can only play who they’re scheduled to play, and they’re a perfect 3-0, even if several moments during those games have been anything but perfect.

It’s Always Sunny in Wentzelvania

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2016 NFL season as one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.  For the first two weeks of the season, that looked like a pretty strong bet.

The Philadelphia Eagles entered this season in rebuild mode, starting with a first-time head coach and more importantly a rookie quarterback, straight from the FCS, that played one game in the preseason.

The two teams clashed on Sunday, with Pittsburgh as a near touchdown favorite, and Wentz led the Eagles to a convincing 34-3 victory.

“We lost just about every aspect of that one,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin explained. “It was a poor performance by us, and I mean all of us. It starts with me. They outcoached us. They outplayed us. They were better fundamentally. We were highly penalized. We didn’t get it done and they did.”

“Everyone has confidence and high expectations for themselves,” Wentz said. “We’re playing inspired football.”

The North Dakota State alum completed 23 of 31 throws, for 301 yards with a pair of touchdowns against a defense that held down the potent offense of the Cincinnati Bengals just seven days earlier.

“What he’s doing is special and it’s a testament to his preparation and demeanor,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said of Wentz.

Wentz is yet to throw an interception this season and he became the first rookie in NFL history to attempt more than 100 passes without a pick.  Entering Sunday’s action, Wentz led the NFL in completion percentage against the blitz, completing 12 of 15 throws.

With the win and a New York Giants loss, the Eagles moved into first place in the NFC East with a perfect 3-0 record.  Not bad for a “rebuilding project.”

“I told the team way back in OTAs that it just takes a little bit of belief,” rookie head coach Doug Pederson said. “Belief in themselves; trust the process; believe in the coaches and the coaches believe in one another. That’s what they did tonight. Am I surprised? A little. But at the same time, I know that locker room, I know those guys and I know what they are building. By no means have we accomplished anything yet; the season is still extremely young. But what they did tonight just proves that they are coming together as a football team.”

Rams Score Touchdowns, 5 Of Them

The Los Angeles Rams were unanimously No. 32 in everyone’s power rankings following their opening Monday night 28-0 blanking at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers.  Since that game, the two teams have gone in opposite directions.

The 49ers have been blown out twice, which wasn’t really surprising as they played both the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks on the road.

The Rams beat that same Seahawks team last week and this week traveled across the country to Tampa and beat the Buccaneers, 37-32 in a weather delayed game.

“We executed. We put it in the endzone,” Rams quarterback Case Keenum said. “We had a couple of goal line series where we had a lot of plays down there and the offensive line did a great job of blocking for (running back) Todd (Gurley) and Todd finished on all of those, which was really good. And then the couple of explosive plays – guys getting up and downfield making plays for me, which was great.”

Los Angeles became the first team in four years to win a game without scoring in double digits in last week’s 9-3 victory over Seattle, and this week broke out with an offensive explosion which included a pair of rushing touchdowns by Todd Gurley, who broke out of his slump with an 85-yard performance.  In the team’s first two games Gurley had just 98 yards combined.

“The difference there was we converted some third downs,” head coach Jeff Fisher explained. “We had some opportunities with him, a turnover here and there helps for extra carries. He’s not there yet, not because of Todd Gurley personally, but we don’t have him there offensively to where we want to get to.”

The Rams were outgained 472-320, had just 18 first downs to the Bucs 30, and allowed 10 of 18 on third and fourth downs.  Both teams had a pair of turnovers, but the biggest difference in the game was a 77-yard fumble return touchdown by Ethan Westbrooks on a Jameis Winston fumble.

Winston, who looked like the MVP of the league in Tampa’s opening day win at Atlanta, has seven turnovers in the last two weeks.

L.A. wide receiver Kenny Britt knows that it’s early in the season and this fast start might or might not be indicative of what’s to come.

“I’ve played with Fisher before,” Britt said. “We started off 5-0 before. So me as an L.A. Ram, it feels good definitely, keep this momentum going. We’ve got a divisional opponent next week, got to take it to Arizona.”

 


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.